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No-nonsense lyricism

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Pallasmaa’s new essays are a tonic for any architect, writes James Pallister

Juhani Pallasmaa is now 76. A gifted writer, critic and architect, his personal trajectory of study has taken him from young formalist and devotee of Mies van der Rohe to an explorer of phenomenological, and latterly, ecological, issues.

One of the key markers along this journey was his 1996 classic, The Eyes of the Skin, essaying the influence on architecture of an ocular-centric understanding of the world that has prevailed for thousands of years. Pallasmaa argued for shifting our emphasis to a more multisensory approach, which diverted sensory primacy away from the visual. Building should be informed, he proposed, not just by seeing, but by feeling.

The Thinking Hand (2009) further explored mind and body interaction, going some way to explode the notion of this pairing as oppositional, arguing how true craftsmanship is only possible through the productive coupling of the two, and encouraging the reader to be aware of the ability of the human body to be a ‘knowing entity’.

In his latest collection of essays, Encounters 2, Pallasmaa describes his thinking as having gradually ‘shifted from structuralist rationalism towards an experiential emphasis, from formal to mental issues and from visual to ecological and biological concerns’.

His style of inquiry is articulated with a sort of no-nonsense lyricism. The texts are illuminating, perspicacious and easy to read. Heartening, too: architecture is described as ‘nothing short of a poetic calling’.

For Pallasmaa, pursuit of the discipline can be life-affirming: ‘Architecture can strengthen and maintain our grasp of the world and ourselves, and support humility and pride, curiosity and optimism,’ he writes.

The transformative power of curiosity and learning is easy to forget. This volume is a great reminder.

Read: Encounters 2: Architectural Essays, by Juhani Pallasmaa, ed Peter Mackeith, published by Rakennustieot, 336pp, paperback, £40

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